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Where and how people choose to live as they age is a critical factor in determining a person’s level of happiness and independence. Therefore, choosing proper housing for the elderly is a decision that must take into account the advantages of staying put vs. seeking the assistance of community-based services. Many older people own their homes and most prefer not to move out of them just because they are growing older. A person's own home represents security and independence to most Americans. Unfortunately, the majority of housing is designed for a more youthful, energetic and mobile lifestyle. In order to remain at home, at the very least, a person must be able to drive, go shopping, cook and attend to the basic household chores. Unfortunately, most people will lose one or more of these abilities as they reach their retirement years.
House sharing is a viable option for those who wish to remain at home in that it can provide older homeowners with revenue, as well as added security and companionship. This alternative is based on an arrangement in which two or more unrelated people share a house or apartment. Everyone living there is free to use the common areas of the house, like the kitchen and living room. However, each resident also has some personal space, usually a bedroom, where he or she can have some privacy. Accessory apartments, which are separate units within a home, as well as adult foster care, which involves a family caring for a dependent person in their home, offer similar advantages. Group Homes are centered on primarily the same concept in that they provide independent, private living in a house shared by several senior citizens who split the cost of rent, housekeeping services, utilities, and meals.
When older persons do decide to move into a new residence they have a plethora of special housing options from which to choose. Special housing for the elderly provides shelter, meals, housekeeping and/or personal care for a set fee. The categories include apartments for the elderly, congregate housing facilities, assisted living facilities, continuing care, and nursing home facilities. These are usually located in buildings constructed specifically for the purpose of housing the elderly, and are built to accommodate the special needs of older residents. Congregate housing offers residents separate rooms or apartments with common areas for dining, socializing, and programs. While this housing option usually provides housekeeping services, it is designed for those elderly who are relatively mobile and self-sufficient. Continuing care residences provide all levels of care and typically require an entrance fee plus monthly fees, which may be equal for all residents, or may adjust according to the level of care provided.
As residents’ needs change, their needs can be treated in different levels of care on the same property. These facilities often have apartments, congregate housing, an infirmary, and nursing home in the same or adjacent buildings. Assisted living facilities are also included under this umbrella, however they usually offer additional services such as personal and medical care, for which additional fees may be required. Generally, older Americans enter a retirement community or continued care facility when they are in relatively good health and capable of living independently, or living with limited assistance.
These communities usually offer residents a complete range of housing and care for the rest of their lives, as long as they remain in the program. Some communities have several hundred residents; others are much smaller. The amenities can vary greatly, from luxurious settings with tennis courts, swimming pools and grand dining rooms, to more reserved facilities with similar, but less lavish accommodations. Most have public reception and meeting areas, dining rooms, recreational areas, and various health care facilities. Other amenities such as libraries, beauty parlors, barbershops, dry cleaners, banks and convenience stores vary from facility to facility.
The Better Business Bureau suggests, however, that before signing any retirement home or nursing home contracts, the following precautionary measures should be taken:
· Read the documents very carefully and make sure you understand all the provisions.
· Make certain that your assets will allow you to fulfill financial or contractual obligations you agree to.
· Make sure you thoroughly understand what services will be provided and how much they will cost.
· Ask as many questions as possible to learn all you can about the facility. Do not assume anything.
· Check with local consumer organizations, the Better Business Bureau and state regulatory agencies, to see if any complaints have been filed against the facility.
· Ask if the Continuing Care Accreditation Commission (CCAC) has accredited the facility.
Accreditation by the Commission means that a team of experts has scrutinized the community and found that it was up to par with national standards for quality care. The accreditation process involves extensive self-study by the community's staff, board of directors and residents, and includes an onsite evaluation by trained professionals, concluding with a comprehensive review by the commission.
The major advantage of selecting some variety of congregate housing is security. The presence of others not only ensures safety through continued monitoring of health care, but it helps promote a happier, more independent lifestyle based upon forming key social relationships. Experts agree that social connections and activities increase satisfaction with life and have a positive impact on physical health. This is a particularly important consideration for those with limited mobility.
Evaluating the pros and cons of service oriented housing versus the independence offered by a single family home is a difficult undertaking. Timing is probably one of the most important factors to consider, because the most effective way to make such an important decision is to begin early by getting all the information possible on the variety of options available.